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The Changing Face of Complementary Therapies in the UK

by Carole Preen(more info)

listed in clinical practice, originally published in issue 256 - August 2019


I run a professional association in the UK; a role I have been involved in since the 1990s. It is called Complementary Health Professionals (CHP) and we cover all therapies and support therapists in many ways as it is our mission to offer the best to our members. 2019 sees our 25th anniversary and recently I was asked to reflect on the changes I have witnessed in the past 25 years and how I feel the profession has progressed in that time.


full-logo Aromatherapy Organisation Council


My own speciality as a therapist has been aromatherapy and a therapy for back and joint pain called Neuroskeletal Re-alignment Therapy, although like many other therapists I have trained in lots of other modalities. In the late 1990s, I was involved with the Association of Natural Medicine (ANM), who later awarded me a Fellowship, on their Governing Council and was asked to represent them on the Aromatherapy Organisations Council (AOC). Then I was elected onto the Executive Committee of the AOC a year later. During this time, I met the former owners of what is now Complementary Health Professionals and became a Board Member of that organisation too. In 2003, I took over as the administrator and Registrar of the Aromatherapy Organisations Council as we worked toward regulation of the aromatherapy profession. I took over the running of CHP in 2015 with my colleague, Julie Quinn (who sat on the Reflexology Forum).

Being involved with several different organisations means I have had a great deal of insight, especially with regulation of complementary therapies. As part of a multi-disciplined association, our members represented us on many of the regulatory working groups. Before 2000, when the House of Lords Report was published on CAM, the AOC was actually in talks with Government ministers about statutory regulation of aromatherapy. We felt this was needed in order to protect the profession as a part of integrated health within the medical profession for the future. We were promoting this to aromatherapists at the time at health shows and in our publications and had huge support for it. What we were afraid of is that Aromatherapy would become nothing more than beauty therapy offered in the back of hairdressing salons and spas rather than allied to medicine.

Around this time, many universities were creating degree programmes in complementary therapies. The ANM's diplomas in aromatherapy, reflexology and massage were affiliated to what was then the Anglia Polytechnic University in order to raise standards and I re-did these three courses so that I could achieve a degree in complementary therapies. Other universities such as Middlesex, Greenwich and Westminster in London had degrees in complementary therapies to include these three, as well as degrees in other therapies such as Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine. My association accredited many of these degree programmes and I was involved in the creation of a specific aromatherapy degree at Middlesex University. It was a time of excitement for our profession with growth and efficacy being proven by research.


Carole Preen, Nina Ashby, Lawrence West, Joyce West, Lesley Grimwood 2002.

From Left to Right, Carole Preen, Nina Ashby, Lawrence West, Joyce West, Lesley Grimwood
after receiving the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for Aromatherapy, 2002.


Following the Government's response to the House of Lords Report, it was decided that statutory regulation for complementary therapies was too costly and instead a form of voluntary self-regulation would be better. Aromatherapy was already well ahead at this time thanks to the work of the AOC but the profession agreed to work towards a voluntary self-regulatory body for aromatherapy. It created the Aromatherapy Regulation Working Group (ARWG) and appointed a Lay Chair; a person who had helped chiropractors gain statutory regulation. In the spirit of inclusivity, the ARWG wrote to all organisations that took aromatherapists as members and accredited aromatherapy courses and asked them to meet together to create a new core curriculum and standards that everyone could agree on. Many organisations took part but a few decided not to. I won't name these as I feel it would be unprofessional to do so but needless to say, they are still out there today taking membership fees for substandard courses.

Other therapies were doing the same thing alongside the aromatherapy profession, such as the Reflexology Forum for Reflexology, the GCMT for Massage, the Reiki Council for Reiki and so on. Many of us would attend the Parliamentary Group for Complementary and Integrated Therapies too and I enjoyed meeting like-minded professionals who were all looking to creating and having standards for our respective professions.


logo Aromatherapy Council


The Aromatherapy Council was launched in 2007 as the voluntary self-regulatory body for aromatherapy. It had a Lay Chair and lay members as well as professional members elected from the Register. A year or so later, the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) was launched and we felt, that as so many aromatherapists were multi-disciplined, it would be better and less expensive for regulation to be dealt with a body that covered all of the therapies. As a result, the Aromatherapy Council voted to dissolve in favour of supporting the newly founded CNHC, subsequently launched with money from the Department of Health.

This all sounds great doesn't it? But the reality is that voluntary self regulation hasn't worked in my opinion and as a result, those predictions we made in 1998 are starting to come true and worse. With the advances in technology and the creation of YouTube, everyone now thinks it is fine to learn aromatherapy online by video and never attend a class. I hear people tell me you can find out how to do anything online! With no statutory regulation, anyone can set themselves up as a complementary therapist after doing a course online for less than it costs to go out for a meal. The courses are accredited by ‘professional’ organizations that really do not care about standards or public safety and certain insurance companies are only too happy to take their money for insurance to practice as they are considered low risk. Would you be happy going for an aromatherapy treatment from someone who watch a video?

The CNHC is a voluntary self-regulatory body and as such it has no teeth. One good thing is that the few jobs in the NHS do require CNHC Registration but as I said, these jobs are very few indeed. Possibly, the CNHC was relying on the goodwill of professionals who would want to register with it to show the public that they had been verified as meeting national standards in their therapies. The reality is quite different. There are more people registered on online complementary therapy courses than are with the CNHC at this time. CHP remains one of the few that adheres to strict standards and our membership criteria are the same as those required for CNHC Registration. This is why we are a verifying organisation for the CNHC and continue to try and support them and their work. In reality though, they need to become a statutory regulation body as this is the only way to ensure standards are maintained.

Since the noughties, we have seen a decline in courses in aromatherapy, massage and reflexology and hardly any universities now have degree programmes in complementary therapies. Unable to compete with online courses, many amazing schools have closed down because they cannot afford to run. A good aromatherapy course will take at least 10 months part time and cost anywhere between £1000 to £2000. However, people are drawn to online courses costing less than £100 but where are the standards? Would you go to a hairdresser who had done an online course let alone a massage therapist or aromatherapist and let them manipulate your muscles and joints and blend complex chemical essential oils for your health? Unfortunately aromatherapy has been blurred with beauty therapy and the training standards are muddled and confused and no-one outside of educators and registrars like me really understands it. Hence we see "aromatherapy" in beauty salons and spas when it belongs in GP surgeries and hospitals.

People are not asking enough questions when they go for a treatment because they do not know anything about qualifications. It is the role of the regulator to advise the public about safety and standards and only through statutory regulation can we ensure that there is a single standard for training in each profession and therefore ensure the public are receiving safe treatments that are integrated as part of their overall healthcare needs. Many of us older therapists who have been around for 25 years+ are so frustrated at what has happened and feel that we have regressed rather than progressed. You can help. Start by asking your therapist about their qualifications and if you are thinking of training, check your qualification out first (CHP is happy to advise). Be the best you can be and do not succumb to fast track, cheap courses to satisfy your need. In this fast access, instant gratification world put the members of the public whom you will be treating first and think about the sort of treatment you would want for your relative who is ill and needs professional help. Rant over!


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About Carole Preen

Carole Preen FCHP FANM HonMIFA is a Fellow of the Association of Natural Medicine and the former Aromatherapy & Allied Practitioners' Association and has been a practitioner since 1994 and an educator since 1997. She is also an honorary lifetime member of the International Federation of Aromatherapists awarded for her contribution to the profession. As well as specializing in Aromatherapy and Anatomy, Carole also introduced Neuroskeletal Re-alignment Therapy to the UK. Carole is an specialist educator, and internal and external moderator working in both the private and FE sector and has level 4 qualifications in quality assurance. She is Director of Complementary Health Professionals and may be contacted on Tel: 0333 577 3340;
For further information about Neuroskeletal Re-alignment Therapy (NSRT) please view the website at with links to published articles and a Facebook page. The diploma course is accredited by Complementary Health Professionals through Natural Therapeutics. Training details and information on booking a treatment with me is available via Mob: 07455 195 515

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